Rick Clark, director of admissions at Georgia Tech, recently spoke at my son’s high school graduation. Part of the brilliance of his speech was realizing that nobody wanted a speech from an admissions director at a school they were either about to attend or not. The other part of the brilliance was in telling a story which was easy to listen to and, in fact, a speech.
Rick told a story about the summer after his college freshman year. He had a friend from high school who had gotten very into kayaking and wanted to take him and another friend on a river trip. They practiced on a lake first and tried to learn how to roll their boats. That was an important technique for the rapids they’d face. Neither Rick not the third friend got the move down on the lake, but their buddy assured them that they’d be fine on the river.
On the river, they repeatedly flipped improperly and needed to dump water out of their kayaks. That took a lot of work and made the expedition much longer. At the final rapids section, the friend leading the trip told them that there was a rough section ahead. They had to go downstream until they got to a specific rock then turn left. If they managed that, then all was good. Otherwise, there was some danger. The other option was to portage – which meant carrying the boat along the shore and skipping the challenging section.
The leader went, turned left at the rock, and sailed down. He turned around and waved for the next kayaker to come down. Rick’s friend went, turned left, and managed to get through alive. Then it was Rick’s turn. He somehow managed to t-bone that rock and the river took him to the right – backwards. Then the water yanked the paddle of his hands and spun his helmet around on his head. He let the water take him through the hydraulics and it shot him out 2-3 feet in the air at the bottom. Rick heard cheers at the amazing move he’d inadvertantly pulled off while avoiding death from people watching the action on the river.
From this, he drew three life lessons.
- You’re ready: Sheltered practice helps. It can give you a sense of comfort and prepare you for what’s ahead.
- You’re NOT ready: That practice doesn’t cover the real world and what it’ll throw at you. There’s airways going to be a twist you’re not ready for. You’re going to need to adapt based on what you’ve experienced to date.
- Don’t portage: Don’t skip the challenge. You’ll miss on what you can learn from it. Furthermore, you may pull off something amazing which you had no clue that you were capable of.
Oh yeah. Rivers are always great metaphors. Let’s not lose sight of that.